Lebanon Catholic s Abby Shay, left, and Catherine Gross try to wrestle the ball away from Elco s Celeste Shimp during opening-round action in Lebanon High
Lebanon Catholic s Abby Shay, left, and Catherine Gross try to wrestle the ball away from Elco s Celeste Shimp during opening-round action in Lebanon High s holiday tournament on Thursday night. Elco used a fierce defensive effort to secure a 53-36 victory and a spot in tonight s championship game against the host Cedars. (LEBANON DAILY NEWS JEREMY LONG)
Don't be surprised if the Elco and Lebanon High girls' basketball teams do a double-take when they step on the court tonight for the championship game of the LHS holiday tournament.

Because if Thursday night's opening-round contests are any indication, the Cedars and Raiders are pretty much mirror images of each other.

Athletic. Passionate about the game. Defensively intense. And, well, often just intense, period.

Appropriately enough, Elco and Lebanon's similar approaches to the game on Thursday put them on a collision course to tonight's 7:30 p.m. title tilt at the Cedars' newly renovated gymnasium.

The Raiders did their part to make the showdown happen by using a suffocating matchup zone defense and a 20-point effort from junior sniper Cheyenne Hassler as the catalysts to bowl over listless Lebanon Catholic, 53-36, in the opener on Thursday.

Host Lebanon then made sure it would be an all-county final by summoning a total team effort and nearly identical defensive fire to dismantle winless Twin Valley 55-32 in the nightcap.

"I just said in the locker room, 'You're gonna play a team tomorrow that in the halfcourt defense plays like you,'" Lebanon coach Ben Brewer said of his postgame words to his squad. "They'll be running around, jumping around, trying to get deflections, getting steals. It's gonna be fun to watch."

The Raiders' defensive work on Thursday, spearheaded by feisty guards Halie Parker, Sydney Parker and Kady Yoders, wasn't much fun for Lebanon Catholic, though.

With the Parkers and Yoders hounding ballhandlers on the perimeter, contesting seemingly every shot and repeatedly turning steals into points, Elco led wire to wire on the way to evening its opening-month record at 4-4.

"The bottom line is we wanted to put pressure on the ball," said Elco coach Ashli Shay, whose squad was also aided by a nice 10-point effort from junior post Victoria Sweatlock. "We got a little sloppy at times, reaching and things like that.

Lebanon s Alicia Haitos slices through a group of Twin Valley defenders on the way to her team-high 12 points in the Cedars  55-32 win on Thursday night.
Lebanon s Alicia Haitos slices through a group of Twin Valley defenders on the way to her team-high 12 points in the Cedars 55-32 win on Thursday night. The Cedars will host county rival Elco tonight in the championship game of their own holiday tournament. (LEBANON DAILY NEWS JEREMY LONG)
But we thought if we forced them to handle the basketball and give it up, we could create things off of that."

"We know that's where we have to make our money. We've gotta do it on the defensive end. We know that's where we have to make things happen."

The Raider "D" made more things happen than Lebanon Catholic (5-3) could handle on this night.

Although senior forward Abby Shay found enough operating room in the lane to tally a game-high 22 points, no other Beaver could find any kind of a comfort zone for even a minute.

It made some runs in the second half after trailing 28-17 at the break, but Catholic was undone by both shoddy foul shooting (11-for-24) and Elco's ability to force a turnover whenever it needed one.

A Shay drive to the hoop had the Beavers within 39-32 with 5:22 left, but Hassler answered with a jumper that was followed by back-to-back steals and layups by Yoders and Halie Parker that all but put the game away.

"They definitely dictated the game," said Lebanon Catholic coach Patti Hower. "We struggle to handle the ball against pressure, and that kinda takes out of what we like to do against a zone defense because our offense is starting at halfcourt."

And, much to Hower's chagrin, the Beavers also didn't come close to matching Elco's competitiveness.

"That's the way we've been all along," Hower said with frustration. "We're just very mopey. And we're not quick, so it may look like we're uninterested at times.

The Raiders’ Cheyenne Hassler drives to the basket past the Beavers’ Holly Marinkov during the opening game of the Lebanon Holiday Tournament
The Raiders' Cheyenne Hassler drives to the basket past the Beavers' Holly Marinkov during the opening game of the Lebanon Holiday Tournament on Thursday night. (LEBANON DAILY NEWS JEREMY LONG)
But we just don't have a lot of energy when we're out there, for whatever reason. I can't explain it."

Coaxing energy out of his team isn't one of Brewer's challenges as head coach. And it was a complete non-issue on Thursday, as the ready-and-willing Cedars (4-4) jumped all over Twin Valley with a 17-5 first quarter that settled the outcome early.

Lebanon's passionate play was combined with crisp offensive execution highlighted by 12 and 11 points, respectively, from emerging sophomore forwards Alicia Haitos and Madison Rakow, who also added a pair of emphatic blocks to her strong effort.

The Cedars also got their usual energy and production from guards Lauren Chambers and Brittany Ulrich, who totaled 26 points between them.

"At the beginning of the year we were driving, getting into the lane and either shooting or kicking it out for 3s," Brewer said of how his team is evolving offensively. "Now, we're getting it into the lane and dumping it to the bigs. That's fun to watch."

And to coach. That's another similarity between the Raiders and Cedars: They've made their coaches enjoy coming to work every day, which bodes well for tonight's title game being an entertaining battle of wills.

"They just want to play basketball," Brewer said, smiling. "They were (upset) yesterday that we had to cancel practice because of the ice and everything. They wanna play. It's fun."

"These kids have worked so hard," Shay added. "They really have. This has been the hardest-working group of girls that I've been around since I've been here. They're putting the time in. I keep telling them, 'It's gonna pay off, it's gonna pay off.' I think, and I hope, that's what we're gonna see here at the start of the new year."